Commemoration of Paul Gerhardt: Pastor and Hymn Writer
Thanks to my colleague, Rev. Benjamin Mayes, for his fine translating work. This is a statement that Paul Gerhardt wrote on the occasion of his 70th birthday. It has been referrred to as his “testament” for lack of a better word to describe what this is. It is quite moving and powerful. He addressed it to his son. This, once again, amply destroys the myth that Paul Gerhardt was some sort of Pietist yearning to run free of the shackles of Lutheran Orthodoxy, a very, very common myth, sadly, even among a number of Lutherans, who really should know better. He offers absolutely wonderful advice here that we all do well to heed. For instance, when anger wells up in us, then we do well to say nothing but to pray the Ten Commandments and the Creed.
The So-Called “Testament” of Paul Gerhardt for His Son (Early 1676)
Now that I have reached the 70th year of my life and also have the joyful hope that my dear, holy God will soon rescue me out of this world and lead me into a better life than I have had until now on earth, I thank Him especially for all His kindness and faithfulness which, from my mother’s womb until the present hour, He has shown me in body and soul and in all that He has given me. Besides this, I ask Him from the bottom of my heart that when my hour comes He would grant me a happy departure, take my soul into His fatherly hands, and give my body a peaceful rest in the ground until the dear Last Day, when I, with all of my [family] who have been before me and also may remain after me, will reawake and behold my dear Lord Jesus Christ face to face, in whom I have believed but have not yet seen. To my only son whom I am leaving behind I leave few earthly goods, but with them I leave him an honorable name of which he will not have to be ashamed.
My son knows that from his tender childhood I have given him to the Lord my God as His possession, that he is to become a servant and preacher of His holy Word. He is to remain now in this and not turn away from it, even if he has only few good days in it. For the good Lord knows how to handle it and how sufficiently to replace external troubles with internal happiness of the heart and joy of the spirit.
Study holy theologiam [“theology”] in pure schools and at unfalsified universities and beware of the syncretists [those who mix religions or confessions], for they seek what is temporal and are faithful to neither God nor men. In your common life do not follow evil company but rather the will and command of your God. Especially: (1) Do nothing evil in the hope that it will remain secret, for nothing is spun so small that it is not seen in the light of day. (2) Outside of your office and vocation do not become angry. If you notice that anger has heated you up, remain still and speak not so much as a word until you have first prayed the Ten Commandments and the Christian Creed silently. (3) Be ashamed of the lusts of the flesh, and when you one day come to the years in which you can marry, then marry with God and with the good advice of pious, faithful, and sensible people. (4) Do good to people even if they have nothing with which to repay you, for the Creator of heaven and earth has long since repaid what humans cannot repay: when He created you, when He gave you His beloved Son, and when He accepted you in Holy Baptism as His child and heir. (5) Flee from greed as from hell. Be satisfied with what you have earned with honor and a good conscience, even if it is not all too much. But if the good Lord gives you something more, ask Him to preserve you from the burdensome misuse of temporal goods.
In summary: Pray diligently, study something honorable, live peacefully, serve honestly, and remain unmoved in your faith and confessing. If you do this, you too will one day die and depart from this world willingly, joyfully, and blessedly. Amen.
[Translated by Benjamin T. G. Mayes, 5/4/2007]